INDIANAPOLIS — After one of the most immature moments of the season, the Indiana Pacers grew up.
They're fresh and skilled, anchored by a couple 23-year-olds with talent pouring out of their bodies. But sometimes, the Pacers can be a young and reckless bunch. It can rear up on the court with an offense that devolves into hero ball but on Wednesday, it manifested when one of the young stars, Lance Stephenson, lost himself and got ejected from the game late in the fourth quarter.
Yet, the other Pacers stuck around and acted like adults in the thrilling 84-83 win over the Miami Heat. The Pacers now lead the Heat by three games for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
BOX SCORE: Pacers 84, Heat 83
SHOVE: Wade pushes Stephenson
Evan Turner replaced Stephenson in the lineup and made two strong plays down the stretch that pulled the Pacers back from a four-point deficit.
"When I got back in, coach (Frank Vogel) said, 'Welcome to the rivalry,' " said Turner, the young player who replaced one of the veteran locker room voices, Danny Granger. "He was really positive and I took it from there."
Then, elder Pacer David West made the intelligent play to put an attempt on goal as the shot clock and possession rolled down. And surprise — with just 50 seconds left, he hit a three-pointer that remained the difference in the game.
They've depended on the exploits of Stephenson and Paul George, the two 23-year-olds. But since the departure of Granger at the trade deadline, the Pacers have been even younger. Often, championship contenders snatch up more veterans, not the other way. But the Pacers hope to defy that logic. On nights like Wednesday, they showed they can get away with it long enough.
"That was a heck of a basketball game," coach Frank Vogel said. "Very, very proud of our effort to battle back a few different times when it seemed like Miami was taking control of the game."
'KUNG-FU MASTER': LeBron's joke about flagrant foul
One of those pivotal moments happened with 5:01 remaining in the game. Stephenson made a bucket, then turned to Dwyane Wade to flex his muscles.
"What!?" Stephenson yelled, while staring down his rival.
Wade laughed at the childish display, but no one was smiling on the Pacers' sideline when official David Jones hit Stephenson for taunting and tossed him from the game with his second technical.
Stephenson played hard all night. He knocked down big three-pointers during the second quarter and settled the bench unit when the Pacers needed his offense. But he also stayed on the edge, wild and wound up. The ESPN announcing crew described his behavior as a "good kind of crazy." The referees saw it as punishable.
Stephenson, already tagged with a double technical foul after engaging with Wade in the third quarter, should have known better. But the emotions took precedence when his team needed him.
"Lance can't get kicked out of a game," Vogel said. "He's too important to us. He just can't do that, period."
HIGHLIGHTS: Pacers stave off LeBron, Heat
The Pacers were angry. They protested, but more importantly, they regrouped.
"Evan Turner did a great job in stepping in for Lance when he was ejected," Vogel said.
Turner scored on a fastbreak, then hit a spinning shot in the lane that gave the Pacers the 81-80 lead.
"I saw a little bit of a lane open up. He went one way to get him off balance," Turner said. "He went for it and I went the other way. We got tangled up a little bit and I was glad they didn't call an offensive foul. I think Paul and Dave were on the other side and it drew some defensive attention. It led to a layup."
The win clinches the Central Division for the Pacers (52-20) and also gives them a confidence-building victory near the end of this grind of a regular season.
Achieving home court doesn't seem that far away now for a team that's maturing at the right time.
GALLERY: NBA photo of the day